Organisers have banned foreign spectators from this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympics, warning the global COVID-19 situation remains too challenging to allow their entry to Japan.
- Polling showed most Japanese were wary of letting in international spectators
- About 1 million tickets are estimated to have been sold overseas
- Organisers say ticket holders will be given refunds
Organisers say they will refund all tickets sold overseas, including at least 600,00 for the Olympic Games.
Polls showed a majority of the Japanese public were wary about letting in international spectators to watch the games as the country grapples with the tail end of a third wave of coronavirus.
“Based on the present situation of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that entry into Japan will be guaranteed this summer for people from overseas,” organisers said in a statement.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure games for all participants and the Japanese public.”
Head of the Tokyo Organising Committee Seiko Hashimoto said the fact that spectators would not able to attend the games from abroad was very disappointing and regretful.
“But given the current stance of COVID-19 and the situation we are seeing in Tokyo, and in order to make sure we do not cause any inconvenience to the medical situation, we had to make the decision and we have to ensure the safe and secure environment for all of the participants,” she said.
A State of Emergency covering more than 30 million people in the capital and surrounding prefectures is due to be lifted at midnight on Sunday, despite concerns from health experts that infections are not falling fast enough.
The Olympic Games, which were delayed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, are now scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, and the Paralympics from August 24 to September 5.
Ms Hashimoto said with regards to families of athletes, she wanted to try to find ways to ensure they connect with the athletes even though they cannot be there in person.
No reimbursing flights or accommodation
Tokyo Organising Committee CEO Toshiro Muto said guests of sponsors would be allowed if they “were somewhat involved in the operation.”
“But for solely as spectators for watching games, no, they will not be allowed to make an entry,” he said.
And he added that there would be no reimbursement of costs incurred from flights or accommodation.
Last week, Tokyo organisers unveiled COVID-19 countermeasures for the torch relay, reducing the number of participants and simplifying the programme for the marquee event to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Participants in the relay will need to be masked, socially distanced from each other and not cheer out loud, organisers said.
The 121-day torch relay is set to begin on Thursday from the J-Village training centre in Fukushima.
Organisers now have to work out how many spectators to allow into venues, as they design health protocols aimed at hosting a safe games during the pandemic.
The country’s borders remain closed to tourists as a COVID-19 countermeasure and it is unclear when restrictions will be lifted.
Decision deals financial blow
For interior designer Saori Gunji, it’s a devastating decision.
She renovated a shop in Tokyo with the view of renting it out as an Airbnb for foreigners during the games.
“Japanese people don’t have many benefits staying in this area and it would be a short stay. I was hoping people from overseas who come in big groups would stay here for long periods.”
The decision raises new questions about finances.
Figures released in December had projected ticket sales would provide $800 million for the Tokyo organising committee, or about 12 per cent of its budget.
Local ticket sales have typically accounted for 70-80 per cent of total sales at past Olympics.
For Saori Gunji, she is already looking beyond the Olympics and turning her mind to planning for when foreigners can return to Japan.
“I think many hosts of Airbnb don’t care about the Olympics anymore and they just want the government to let in foreign tourists as soon as possible,” she said.
She remains optimistic.
“I’m glad I started it. I’d like to meet more people from overseas and continue this business,” she said.